Thursday, October 7, 2010

Florida History: Of tropical plants, a doctor, one Florida town and the Smithsonian

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Henry Edward Perrine (1797-1840) received the first U.S grant for plant introduction and testing in 1838. It was for 24,000 acres in South Florida and made not long after Spain gave up control of the area.

 Perrine, a physician born in New Jersey, served as U.S. Consul at Campeche, Yucatan in Mexico for 10 years. While there, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Richard Rush sent letters to all consuls encouraging them to collect plants to send back home for cultivation. The only consul official to take up the proposed project was Perrine. His interest in tropical botany motivated his request for a grant in Florida where he thought the climate most suitable for seeds and plants he was to bring back from Mexico. After receiving the grant, he and his family settled on Indian Key, between Cape Florida and Cape Sable. There, he planted Mexican limes, Aguave Sislana (sisal hemp), oranges, limes, avocados and a host of tropical seedlings.

His botanical career was short lived.

Perrine was killed in an Indian attack in 1840. His family escaped and later requested that the Perrine land grant rights be transferred to an area just south of present-day Miami. The doctor’s legacy is the City of Perrine, sisal hemp growing wild on Indian Key, the possibility that today’s key lime evolved from the Mexican varieties he brought back from the Yucatan … and a Smithsonian connection.

Some say Perrine may have been the one to discover that an Englishman named Smithson had died leaving money to establish a scientific institute in America. He and Richard Rush traveled to England, collected the money and the rest, it could be said, is the Smithsonian Institute.

Search archives for "Florida History" for additional history posts.
 Douglas, Marjory Stoneman. The Everglades, River of Grass. Miami: Banyan Books, 1978.

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